SOMETIMES the bullshit you wrap yourself up in over football is laid bare for what it really is.

This is one of those times. It doesn’t matter. It isn’t important. Not really. Not now.

I love Liverpool, and I love Liverpool Football Club.

But I love my children more.

I’ve been the first to say Liverpool, and Liverpool FC, should strive to outdo Manchester and Manchester’s football clubs in every way possible. When football feels relevant again, I’ll no doubt say it again.

We’re rivals — as cities, in football, in music, in fashion, style, economically; take your pick.

When two cities so close consistently produce so much talent of every kind; sporting-wise, artistically, musically — allied to a cocksure attitude that is a characteristic of both conurbations — striving for one-upmanship is human nature. It’s inevitable. In some ways healthy and enjoyable. In many other ways, not so.

We’re this tribe and that is theirs. Ours is better, and they say the same.

So close, so similar. Northern. Proud. Hard-working. Tight communities. Tough. Normal people. Good people. Cities with problems, yet cities with so much to celebrate, past and present.

As with any rivalry, some will take it to extremes. I’ve written before about the Munich, Heysel and Hillsborough tragedy tennis that has shamed many a meeting between Liverpool and Manchester United, and how thoroughly depressing all that is. Human tragedies and those affected by them all forgotten to score points at a football match. And for what?

What happened at the MEN Arena on Monday night just underlined the irrelevance and stupidity of it all. There’s a line. And it feels like too many too often cross it. The endless whataboutery from those that perpetuate it on both sides achieves nothing. Because we’re all the same — football fans, obsessed with our clubs, passionate about our teams. And people. Just people.

As the news that was so difficult to comprehend filtered though that a deranged mass murderer had targeted a pop concert packed — in the main — with young, vulnerable girls, that it was in Manchester mattered none.

It’s the human tragedy, the mindless murdering and maiming of so many so young, that slaps you in the face and makes you sick to the stomach, not where they are from.

Those poor parents, in such a normal, everyday situation, taken in an instant from a time that should have been one of smiles, laughter and an early life experience for their little loved ones to cherish, to the darkest of holes. A living hell. A nightmare it is impossible to dream. How can a ticket for a special treat lead to the cruellest of deaths? How can you accept that? How can you take that in?

How many parents across the world looked at their children today with tears in their eyes and counted themselves lucky? I know I did. My daughter is seven. Arianda Grande is part of her culture. It’s not hard to join the dots in the most horrific of ways. That involuntary imagining is upsetting enough. The reality is impossible to comprehend. It’s a numbing, horrific, inhuman crime. How? Why? What for?

The details are desperately sad. There will be more to come. And you know there is much worse that only those on the ground who have lived to tell the tale can truly ever know. They will replay it forever more — it will be a moment and a date permanently etched in minds for a lifetime.

Young lives over before they have begun. Yet more changed for the worst. Ordinary families ripped apart for no good reason. Many more facing the torment that a shock such as this will inevitably bring for survivors.

Football seems an absolute irrelevance. Manchester United’s press conference was cancelled ahead of the Europa League Final and frankly who can blame anyone at the club for taking that decision? What should be a party in Stockholm is now anything but.

A draining, despicable act occurred in the community they represent. Fans affected, players affected, club staff affected. No doubt in every sense of the word. And yet still some in the media saw fit to publicly question the decision. Sometimes it’s better to say nothing.

For such a supposed deep rivalry lines between Liverpool and Manchester have been blurred more and more. A Scouser in Wayne Rooney has captained Manchester United. He is a hero there. Phil Neville represented Everton. Paul Ince represented Liverpool. Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville clearly good friends as well as colleagues.

Trains, buses and cars take workers from both cities in both directions every day. Relationships and friendships have been forged with plenty living in the ‘wrong’ city or somewhere in between.

I worked in the city for a long time. I passed that Arena so many times, going to work and coming from work, every working day for years. And like so many from this region and beyond I’ve been to it many times, for concerts and events. The bombing happened in Manchester but it has affected people all over the country.

No one with a heart can have failed to have been hurt by the atrocity that unfolded on steps and streets so many of us have walked.

Could it have been us? Our families? Our kids?

So easily.

As usual, the minority of extremists are in evidence. Using a tragedy to push political statements and baffling conspiracy theories while distraught parents still search for definitive news about their children. Professional trolls are also doing their bit to steer emotions in the wrong direction. They are irrelevant.

There’s understandable anger. Understandable sadness. And for many an understandable frustration at not being able to somehow help, or make a difference.

‘Hating’ Manchester has never sounded so absurd. And that there is so much love from all around is at least one bright spot in the darkest of times.

The Merseyside taxi drivers that headed for the area of the bombing without second thought to help ferry people home did so to help fellow human beings in need. The people in Liverpool that have paid their respects to a city 35 miles away have done so because it’s a shocking human tragedy so close to home; one with very few degrees of separation.

In the aftermath everyone seems to know someone. Mums and daughters who went to share a great night together. Sisters who went for a dance and a sing. Out of place dads putting quality time with a daughter ahead of any notion of cool.

All of those ‘rules’ we tie ourselves up in; all of those prejudices and judgements built on nothing more than geographical distance and sporting rivalry.

Bullshit.

We’re all humans. All so different, all so the same. It’s all so random that it was ‘them’. It just so randomly could have been ‘us’.

Rest in peace. Stay strong, Manchester.

If you’re in a position to help: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/westandtogethermanchester

 

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